:: peace like a river/pages 70-128 ::

[photo by Robin. She was drinking hot chocolate and eating a fruit & nut power bagel, both from Einstein Bros.]

I thought it was interesting, and surprising, that Reuben agreed with one premise from that hackneyed (as Swede described it) article from the Minneapolis Star:

"Tommy Basca was an idiot, but he wasn't purebred evil. You could see looking at him that he might be somebody's Bubby. He tagged after Israel Finch because Israel Finch liked having a disciple and no one else was witless enough to want the job."
[page 71]

Maybe so, but Basca receives no pardon from me. He was still some kind of evil, even if he veered toward the dumb side. After all, said Reuben, "Tommy was an accomplice the night of her [Swede's] horrible ride. He grinned during it." [page 71]

I scoffed at how quickly the public opinion of Davy changed by one poorly-written newspaper article. The written word does hold a lot of power - for better or for worse - and readers are easily swayed if they aren't thinking sharp. However, I think most media outlets (in this story and in our society) are fickle, too. Most popular news sources today don't seem so interested in the truth as they do a sensational story. And as Rube said, "Do you think poor Mrs. Basca could've guessed at the power of tragedy?" [page 71] Probably not, but tragedy holds power, too. Though I think the Star's portrayal of Basca and Finch was ridiculous, maybe they were right to some degree? I mean, most of us in this book discussion think Davy committed murder, even if we understand his motivation somewhat.

Well, I thought I understood until we read about the trial, how Davy lured both boys back to his house, by ruining Israel Finch's car. I still believe Davy was tired of his family's torment, and rightly so, but luring the boys like that sounds even more like murder.

Even though I'm jumping ahead here, I'll say that the trial was most interesting, too. Davy did not seem at all concerned or even scared about his situation - he made faces at Reuben, trying to crack him up! Typical brothers. And right before Rube's verbal slip-ups (which were funny to me and very much like an 11-year-old), Davy smiled:

"And do you know, when Davy looked back, something was different. Something in the look itself - it was untethered somehow, loosed from Elvis and the jury and judge. He smiled at me from some planetary distance."
[page 91]

Folks, Davy knew good and well what he was getting into when he shot those boys. I really don't think he had any remorse. Do you?

.... There was another mention of "public inconstancy" on page 96, after Davy escaped from jail by pony (much to Swede's delight):

"Having 'up and disappeared,' Davy'd clearly reacquired the allure that had evaporated so easily when people heard about Bubby. Now he was back to 'bold outlaw,' and while I liked the change I'd also learned a bit by now about public inconstancy."

Do y'all think the media is as fickle as I do - in the story and in our lives?

About Davy escaping - I didn't know how he would do it, but I knew he would. Did you? I almost wondered if he, too, had a few miracles up his sleeve. But nope, he just duped the guards. Davy might be odd and vengeful, but he is a smart one, in some sense. I think all three children are remarkable in their own ways, in fact.

Now, let's go back several pages. I thought the whole pilgrim hat scenario was pretty funny, starting with these sentences:

"You can imagine what a treat these [gingerbread turkeys] were, especially juxtaposed against our general feelings toward the cafeteria. Even as we sat, prying lids off milk bottles, we could hear the persecuted cooks banging around back in the kitchen, grandmas barking at each other, preparing the daily grotesque."
[page 75]

"Daily grotesque" is hilarious! At least my school's cafeteria fit that bill. And then, Holgren wearing one of those paper pilgrim hats was even funnier, and sad. But who in the heck wrote "SHOOT ME!" on his hat, do you think?

I somewhat understood Reuben's embarrassment of his Dad's career. My Dad was principal of my high school. I was never, ever embarrassed by him - I was actually quite proud of his position and the way he did his job. But my fellow classmates were not always kind. If my Dad made a decision we didn't like, I could easily let it go because he was my Dad and I love him so. But kids can be cruel. I grew weary of my friends poking fun at their principal as if I'd just understand. So, I knew what Rube meant by:

"And this bothered me, too: Dad would come into a room, pushing his broom, and always some dumb kid would turn to me and smirk. Janitor's kid. Mop jockey. Cleaned up any good puke lately? I'm sorry if you thought better of me, but the fact is I spent whole hours imagining alarming humiliations for those kids - big dumb kids, always, with effortless all-star lungs."
[pages 77-78]

But I think it's important to note that Reuben was not merely embarrassed by his Dad's job. It's more that he thought Jeremiah deserved better than being a janitor; he was "beloved by God", after all. "To see him therefore in janitor clothes seemed to me the result of a strange and discomforting arithmetic." [page 77]

If Reuben thought he was confused by those thoughts, then how about when he witnessed his Dad heal Holgren's complexion with a strange, quick, slap on his face? I ask you - why do you think Jeremiah healed Holgren of all people? I still can't figure it out, but it seems that miracle had more of a punishment effect on Holgren. I don't think he liked being healed by his humble enemy one bit. Not at all.

And poor Reuben! My heart physically ached when he wouldn't go home with his Dad:

"But I shook my head. I just couldn't go with him. Nor could I tell him it wasn't his public mistreatment that stole my breath and blocked my tongue; it was something too mean to explain. It was the fact that Chester the Fester, the worst man I'd ever seen, even worse in his way than Israel Finch, got a whole new face to look out of and didn't even know to be grateful; while I, my father's son, had to be still and resolute and breathe steam to stay alive."
[page 80]

Wait - do y'all think Holgren was worse than Finch? I don't know about that. But I just wanted to hug Reuben. I don't think Jeremiah controls which miracles he performs. This one seemed to flow from his shocked emotions, but I don't think he would have chosen to heal Holgren. That seemed very clearly of God, though very mysterious; very perplexing. And I do wonder - why hasn't he healed Reuben yet? I think we'd all wonder the same thing, 11 years old or not.

Now, I know some of you find it hard to believe that Swede can write poetry like she does, and that's OK - I'm enjoying everyone's opinions as we read. But to defend Swede a little - she sure is charming - even Reuben notices her mature behavior and intellect. For instance, when he and Swede were sleeping in the DeCuellar's study, and Swede wanted to take knives and break Davy out of jail, Reuben talked her out of it. And he said, "It was one of those rare moments when I actually felt older than Swede." [page 87] I think this means that Swede often behaved older than her years.

Also, didn't Mr. DeCuellar own some great books? C.S. Lewis and Graham Greene? Of course Swede selected a volume of poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson to read. When she and Reuben both got a chill from the following lines, that's when I knew for sure Davy would escape:

"Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the moon is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by
[page 87]

But back to Swede - she giggled furiously when Sheriff Pym misspoke by saying "onus eye" instead of "evil eye." She understood vocabulary better than most adults. Or this paragraph:

"'It would be like forsaking all hope of his return,' Swede said. I know the sentence deserved an accompanying swoon, but this was how she got sometimes and by now you oughtn't to be surprised."
[page 113]

See, Swede's family is used to her ways, but we just don't know many 9-year-olds quite like her! She grew up to be a professor, too.

We see more of Swede's poetry on pages 100, 105, and 106. Though I still love her writing, my previous comparisons don't seem so clear cut as before. I jotted in my journal:

"-I still see Sunny Sundown as Jeremiah, and I don't like the idea of either hung.
-Davy does seem like Valdez to me - he got away and Swede still can't/doesn't want to kill him.
-Or am I wrong in my comparisons?
-Who are the Reddick boys? Sure seem like Finch and Basca. Perhaps things like good and evil aren't so clear cut for me in this story, either.
-'an unreasoning fear that Valdez was no invention. That he was real and coming toward us on solid earth.' [page 101] Yikes. Davy??
-Every Western is a love story?"

There were a few times that Jeremiah surprised me in these pages. His typical Christ-like behavior was evident when he was ill with pneumonia; he asked Reuben if that's what asthma felt like. He thought of his son's discomfort more than his own. Yet Jeremiah was very depressed over Davy's absence. Jeremiah is a great man, but he is human, after all. Or when Andreeson - the federal investigator - dropped by the house; Jeremiah doesn't seem like he plans to give Davy up to any authority. I believe he will protect his son at any cost, even a dangerous one. Do you agree?

I was also very impressed by Swede's and Reuben's care for their sick father. Swede showed that special maturity again by turning into quite a "mom." She rightly saw that Rube should use his hard-earned money for groceries. She even whipped up the Christmas meal, which, by the way, made me very happy - to see the Land family feast after a dark period of little food and Jeremiah's weakened health. And though Reuben hesitated to buy groceries at first, he did see Swede's point and became his family's hero. Speaking of the groceries, I think I know why Jeremiah was most happy to see the Hills Brothers coffee. I personally believe coffee is one of the best aromas in the world. I absolutely loved this description of the smell and comfort of coffee:

"Strangely it was the coffee Dad seemed most happy to see and which, brewed, caused our home to feel again like a place where we might live right-side-up. Dad hummed 'God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,' as he measured grounds into the basket and lit the gas; the pot ticked as it heated; and as it perked a smell came forth like the sunlit hillsides of Mexico, a smell like morning camps described by Theodore Roosevelt in his days as a rancher in North Dakota. Then Dad sat at the kitchen table with a white ceramic cup all asteam and his King James before him ...."
[page 123]

There are two things I think might be important to this story, but I'm not sure. Did any of you see significance in Jeremiah's talk of "high desert" on page 112? Or Reuben's dream of Davy and Tin Lurvy on page 104? Of Davy leaping "wondrously high" and Lurvy saying, "Hey, kids, can I try that?"

To round out my thoughts, I think Andrea called it by saying Lurvy stood out to her. He might be easy to dismiss in some ways, but then in his will, he left an Airstream trailer to Jeremiah which will come in very handy as the Lands set out to find Davy, don't you think? It made Jeremiah laugh with joy, after all!

I jotted down a number of funny quotes, but to close here, I'll just share one:

"Nothing remained of the crib but its black upright timbers, which for frozen steadfastness seemed a jury of Puritans."
[page 117]

So, what did I miss this time? What did y'all notice?
Favorite quotes?

* - [I'll be reading pages 129-179 for the next discussion ....]


Megan said...

Hey - I haven't participated in the conversation yet (these giant posts of info and long comments are hard for me to read/process in quick sittings!) - but I thought I'd jump in on this one thing:

You said, "I really don't think he had any remorse. Do you?"

Well... no. Of course Davy didn't feel any remorse for this. He didn't feel like he did anything wrong. And here's where I turn wishy washy with my own ethical standard. On paper I have to say that what Davy did was wrong. In my heart I think he was absolutely right. I don't know how to reconcile that. I just know that according to what we know about the characters of the Finch/Basca boys, and how the whole town probably feared them, so they wouldn't act, Davy did what he knew nobody else would have the courage to do - vindicate the weak.

I know how all this ends, so it makes my hope irrational, but I still continue to hope for a pardon for Davy. I know he won't get it, but I hope anyway.

Anyway, that's that for now.

jenni said...

Hi, Megan. I'm sorry my posts are too long for you! I was under the impression that most people were reading way ahead and wanted to cover more chapters at a time.

Would y'all like me to post on fewer pages at a time? I know I can't please every single person, but I'd really like to know.

Megan - your thoughts are very interesting. I've seemed kind of harsh on Davy, I guess, but I do think he planned out this murder and that disturbs me. I could understand his actions more if it had been a true self-defense situation (which was what I thought was coming at first). I think the further we read, I'll sympathize with Davy more and more because Jeremiah loves him dearly. And I do like things about Davy, but murder creates inner turmoil just like this.

Megan said...

Oh, you don't need to apologize or change anything on my behalf! I usually jump on the internet at random times of the day with snippets of time, so the length was daunting for me (and I wanted to read through all the comments too, but they are were also long in response to the post!) - I think I just skimmed it and waited until the next post (this one).

It will be a process of figuring out the best way to do this. I don't know if it would serve anyone else to break up the thought remnants into different posts of their own, so one giant post becomes five different ones? That might get goofy too, but it would be easier to track on particular conversation between your thoughts and those of the other commenters. Just an "I wonder."

Back to Davy. I probably shouldn't like him as much as I do. I should probably demand justice more than I do. I may be too much like Swede where I can make excuse for any ill for the greater good. The scene where he wallops the police officer to escape? That should have been disturbing to me, yet I kept thinking he did what he had to do.

If this happened in our county jail, I would be terrified! :)

jenni said...

I do want to figure out the best way to do this. I'd like to keep this book discussion blog running for a good while, and with other books. If y'all have suggestions like Megan, please comment or e-mail me. Thanks!

Crystal said...

Sorry I’m so late posting on all of this. I’ve been consumed with these crazy Bloggy Giveaways. (I can’t believe the response I’ve gotten on my own blog!) I’ve finished the book and returned it to the library so I’m working from memory here. I’ll just comment on the points that Jenni has made. Here goes:

Public opinion and the media;

I think it is crazy to get one’s opinion from someone else, but that is essentially what we do every time we watch the news. We take information from someone else and use it to form our own opinions on the subject. Does anyone really believe that the information or the delivery is unbiased? The media is after a sensational story and if the victim gets more airtime or the perpetrator wins the primetime slot just depends on who can present the best “story”. Davy had it for a while and then Finch and Basca got it. It is sooo like the musical “Chicago”. That movie and this book have a lot to say about the power of media over the scales of justice. It isn’t fair but it is the way things are. And it is true that those boys (Finch and Basca) were loved and will be missed by someone…I sometimes forget that when I think about really evil or mean people.


I was crushed when it was revealed to us what everyone but Reuben and Swede already knew; Davy lured the boys there and planned to kill them. That is premeditated murder in my book. Even though it is somewhat justified (if murder ever can be) it was not necessary. A shot in the knee would have kept Finch and Basca away for the future I would think. When he walked up and finished (I forget which one) off with a shot at close range that was a bad sign. That is acting like a murderer, not a person defending his family. It pains me to say it, but I don’t think Davy had any remorse…and still doesn’t.

Jeremiah the Janitor;

I think everybody can sympathize with Reuben’s feelings about his Dad’s job. My Dad is a farmer. I used to tell people that he didn’t have a job…because I really didn’t consider farming a job. It wasn’t like he went somewhere from 9 to 5 everyday like other people’s dads. Now I realize how stupid I was and how hurtful that probably was to my Dad. I was proud of him and loved him with all my heart, but I didn’t want him showing up in his old grain truck to pick me up from school (which of course he did occasionally, oh the horror).

I felt for. Reuben when he had to watch his dad cleaning while other kids made fun of him. I understand why it probably felt like a kick in the stomach when his dad healed mean old Mr. Holgren. Reuben would have felt better, I’m sure, if Jeremiah would have just punched Holgren in the nose. I know I would have.

But the healing was so “Jeremiah”. He didn’t have the capacity to hate or harm anyone. I feel like he must be very conflicted about Davy’s trial and escape. He knows the difference between right and wrong and what Davy did definitely falls under ‘wrong’, but on the other hand he loves his son and I’m sure a part of him does not want him to get caught. I often wonder if the Land’s catch up with Davy before the “putrid fed” does what will Jeremiah do? Will he help hide him or make him turn himself in?


For me Swede is like the comic relief in the novel. When she makes that break out plan with the steak knives it cracked me up. The fact that she feels sorry for Mr. DeCuellar because he doesn’t own any guns is pretty funny too. She is definitely a mature little girl. How many of us could cook a full turkey complete with dressing, cranberries, and sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner at 9 years old? I could make grilled cheese and Hamburger Helper.


It is getting confusing to do a one to one comparison with the poem characters and the family members. I felt like Davy was Valdez, but as Jenni points out, why are they afraid of him? I never thought of Jeremiah as Sunny Sundown but that is a good point. He is sacrificing everything for his wife…something that Swede probably wished her father would do. (It seems odd that we never see any of their feelings about their mother/wife. Beyond the one comment that they were replaced by her second husband we don’t get any glimpse into how they feel about her. Maybe they don’t fell anything. That’s sad.)
Maybe the reason we are getting confused about it is because Swede is confused about it as well. Her feelings change as the situation changes and then her poem changes too.


I don’t think Jeremiah can choose which miracles he performs. He would have healed Reuben by now. He would have saved Finch and Basca. He wouldn’t have healed Holgren’s face. I think he communes/converses with the Lord on a personal level and the Lord uses him as a tool to do his work; albeit in a very unorthodox way sometimes. I was really worried about him when he got pneumonia. I was so afraid that Swede and Reuben would be left alone…although I thought that might bring Davy out of hiding to take care of them. I am happy that isn’t the way it happened though. Leif Enger is a better writer than I am…whadda ya know.


I knew he would come back into it in some way but I didn’t know how. This is perfect. Jeremiah was probably the only person that gave Tin the time of day. He had unlimited patience with his stories and butting in on family meals. Lurvy repaid that kindness with the best gift he could give to the Land family. If you think about it Davy is now living the type of life that Lurvy once did, in a way, or based on the dream maybe the type of life Lurvy wanted to have.

Sorry these thoughts are so scattered. I don’t have the book and I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t take time to make notes while I was reading. Good books do that to me.

jenni said...

Crystal - you may be right. Perhaps I shouldn't try to draw direct comparisons between Swede's poem and Enger's characters. Maybe I should just go with the story flow.... Or yes, maybe it is supposed to reveal Swede's confusion! Thanks for all of your interesting comments, too.

Andrea said...

I'm way late on this one and I don't have much to add to what everyone else has already said. I agree that Davy has no remorse and premeditated all of it, probably even his escape as well. I second Crystal's observation that Jeremiah does not get to choose his miracles, otherwise he would have healed Reuben by now. Perhaps Holgren's healing was especially to clear up that point to the reader's mind.

I could barely read through Reuben's time on the stand during Davy's trial. Of course he was the only eye witness to the murders, but that whole scene pained me.

I think one of my favorite quotes is "The bills were straight voltage, juicing all sorts of hallucinations." p 119 Do you remember your first paycheck feeling like that? I do. I do not remember what I spent it on, but I'm sure it wasn't necessities.

jenni said...

I hadn't thought about Davy planning his escape from jail (before the shootings), too, but I bet you're right. He probably planned to be "on the run" from the beginning.